The Very Rev. Tom Callard – July 21, 2019
Today Jesus is at the home of Martha and Mary who live, as it says in the Gospel, in a certain village, which is a nice phrase, because there is a universality to it. A “certain village” takes something specific, this village, and makes it your village. Not only that, but in the King James version, it says that in a certain village there was a certain woman named Martha.
So there’s a common experience found in this story of Martha, and what’s going on. It’s not just this woman as she encounters Jesus. But it is a story of all of us as we come to find ourselves in the presence of God.
Martha sees Jesus on the street, invites him to her home, which she shares with her sister Mary. And as we know, Mary sits patiently at Jesus’s feet, giving him awareness and attention. While Martha is up and busy doing all these things. And Martha is upset that her sister Mary is not up or busy like she is. And this is the drama of the story.
Often we hear the story of Martha and Mary as a story about types – that there are two types of people: You’ve got the Martha type and the Mary type. And the Mary type is contemplative and quiet and deep, like a monk or nun who sits all day in prayer. While the Martha type is a doer who is active and busy and working to get things done.
When it comes to cleaning our house, I’ve tried again and again to convince my wife that I’m just not the Martha type, I’m the Mary type. But she just doesn’t buy it. And, actually neither do I. Because I think this story is not about two types of people. And I don’t think these two types exist as a rule, because I think we are all some Martha and some Mary. We are all active and busy, as well as quiet and contemplative, according to what we need to be. So I don’t think this story depicts two types. Rather it depicts distraction. I think that this is a story about distraction.
For in the story, Martha is distracted. The narrator, Luke, says she is distracted. Jesus tells her: Martha, you are distracted. And when Jesus tells her that her sister, Mary, has chosen the better part, he saying– Martha, turn from your distractions, and give your attention, like your sister has, to me. There is need of only one thing, and that is me.
Of course, we don’t know why Martha is distracted. It’s very possible that she is doing the hospitality of offering to Jesus, who is a stranger, food, and she is busy making the bed, doing the dishes, cleaning the floor. Or getting ready to wash Jesus’s feet and attend to him. And that’s what’s keeping Martha busy
But somehow I don’t expect that’s all that it is. Because Jesus, as he does, calls Martha out. He wants to help her address this thing that is ailing her. Just like those who have been stricken with demons or those who have been possessed, Jesus has diagnosed Martha, and he wants to help her. And what he says is plaguing Martha is distraction.
Is distraction a sin or an illness that needs to be cured? I’d say generally not as long as you’re not driving. If you are busy texting your friends or trying to answer your phone as you go down the highway, distraction can be fatal. But we do have countless people for whom social distraction, especially by telephone, is a real concern. Not just driving, but at work, in social situations, walking down the street, and even, believe it or not, while in church, that phone is always calling our attention and it’s gotten harder to just give ourselves, undivided and whole, to wherever we are.
And so distraction can be bad. I remember years ago that the Honduran soccer team made it to the finals of the Americas Cup, which was a big deal for the Hondurans. If you think we are proud of our Women’s soccer team here, imagine that ten times hover, for Honduras is a small country which lives for its soccer.
So during the finals, the Honduran team was playing and the Honduran government took advantage of that game to raise the price of gasoline, and it went up so much that if the people would have noticed it, they probably would have been protesting or rioting in the streets. But as it was, they hardly noticed for days. And by then it was over. So the government used this distraction to do something unpopular, and worked.
But politicians do that all the time- distract us. They distract us by playing on our fears. If we are distracted by the idea that dangerous immigrants are coming over our borders to take our jobs and commit crime, we don’t notice all the other things that are going on. Distraction keeps us focused over here while over there something big is going on.
And spiritually speaking, distractions can keep us from God. When Jesus says to Martha – there is need of only one thing, he’s saying that of all she can do and attend to and focus on, there’s only really one thing worthwhile, which is God. To be focused on anything else is to loose that which really matters.
And he’s saying – Martha, don’t sit at the feet of your busy-ness, or at the feet of your anxiety or of your fear. Don’t sit at the feet of trying to control your life. But sit at the feet of the one in whose hands rests the power of life, who can manage these things so much better than you. Sit with me. Give your busy-ness.
But it’s hard. I remember years ago when I was in seminary I had a class whose homework was to spend a day in silence, saying nothing. And so I booked myself a room at the monastery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
And I got there in the morning. I checked in with the guest master, and I went to the early service. And then I made my way to my room. I opened the door and found myself in a little monastic cell with a single bed, a desk and chair, and not too much else to distract me. And I closed the door, put my stuff on the bed and I sat down on the chair. And after about five seconds of sitting there in silence, I said: well, where’s my phone? I wonder what’s going on in the news? Who’s texted me?
There’s so much of Martha in me, in many of us. And thank God that I am able to be up and out and active and busy doing things, and thank God that you are too, with all you have to do. But at certain times it is a truth that we need to come here and go down and draw in, and sit passively at the presence of the feet of the Lord. And sometimes that’s hard.
If you close your eyes and open your heart and try to get to God, and let God get to you, what comes up? What is it like to be in Jesus’s presence for just a few seconds, or for five minutes, or for a half an hour? Do you see the distractions, the conversations in your head, the constant thinking, planning, trying to control things. Do you, like me, see that they can be like the demons in the scriptures, running around within us.
And yet, the presence of Jesus has come to us. Like with Martha, the God of our salvation has shown up in our homes, and is here in our living rooms, and he is inviting and beckoning us to come and just down. And we can have a million excuses and a million distractions which keep us from him.
Perhaps we’re distracted by the things at home, or out there in our lives which we left behind to come here this morning, and we know well that when this is over and we leave the air conditioned Kendrick room we will go back out there to heat, bills, struggle, worry and strife. And that’s on our hearts. Or we are distracted by the state of the world, the suffering of the innocent, the struggles of the just, and the the care of the planet. And all that weights on us.
But, Jesus says to us today, that’s why you’re here. You need this one thing. You need me. This one thing will attend to all those other things. This one thing will help you be a better Martha, with a more focused energy on all you need to do out there, and Lord knows that’s a lot. But you can not do these things without me.
I am your food, Jesus says, I am your drink. I am your light and your map and that path which you walk on the map. And I am that which pushes you on from behind, and that which has gone out before you. And you will see that here at my feet.
And it’s a great gift, such a blessing, to have you in our house, Lord Jesus. And to know that you have chosen to be here. May we choose to be with you. May we dedicate just a little time to you, as we sit at your feet today. As we take times to sit at your feet this week. Give us gratitude for this blessing. And give us clarity from all that distracts us.